Blood products giant CSL (ASX:CSL) has signed agreements to manufacture millions of doses of two different COVID-19 vaccines at its high-tech Melbourne laboratory if clinical trials prove successful.

Australia’s largest ASX-listed company said it was preparing to manufacture the AstraZeneca/Oxford University and University of Queensland vaccines at its Biotech Manufacturing Facility in Broadmeadows, Melbourne.

The deals are expected to be worth $1.7bn, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Making the vaccines will require the purchase of specialised equipment; recruitment, training and redeployment of personnel; and retooling and reconfiguration of equipment, according to CSL.

“Acknowledging that CSL is the only company in Australia with manufacturing facilities capable of producing this vaccine, we thank the Australian government for their support, ensuring Australia has access to onshore COVID-19 vaccine production and supply,” CSL chief executive and managing director Paul Perreault said.

“While there are still a number of milestones to be met, we are hopeful that by next year we’ll be in the fortunate position of having a vaccine candidate to support Australia and the world’s emergence from this crisis.”


Most promising potential vaccine so far

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, known as AZD1222, is considered one of the most promising COVID-19 vaccines in development and and is one of just a handful in phase-three clinical trials.

It is adapted from a common cold virus found in chimpanzees and a phase I/II clinical trial showed it caused neutralising activity against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in all of the 1,077 trial participants who received two doses of the vaccine.

CSL has signed an agreement with AstraZeneca to manufacture 30 million doses of AZD1222, with the first doses planned for release early next year, the company said.

The University of Queensland’s vaccine candidate, V451, is less further along. The last 20 people in a 120-person phase-one study were given doses of the vaccine in mid-August.

If that trial is successful towards the end of this year, CSL will take full responsibility for a phase 2b/3 study that would commence in late 2020.

CSL said it had signed an agreement with the Australian government to supply 51 million doses of the V451 vaccine to Australia, with the first scheduled from mid-2021 if the clinical trials are successful.

While some pharmaceutical companies are using new, innovative but as yet unproven science such as messenger RNA to develop vaccines, the University of Queensland/CSL vaccine is based on proven technology.

“CSL’s focus is to produce a safe and effective vaccine,” Perreault said.

“It is important that on completion of clinical trials, the public has confidence in UQ-CSL V451, which makes use of the well-established recombinant protein technology platform, and Seqirus’ proprietary adjuvant MF59®, which has an extensive safety track record in humans.”


Free access for Australians

The prime minister said the supply and production agreements would give Australians free access to a COVID-19 vaccine if the trials were successful.

“By securing the production and supply agreements, Australians will be among the first in the world to receive a safe and effective vaccine, should it pass late stage testing,” Morrison said.

“There are no guarantees that these vaccines will prove successful, however the agreement puts Australia at the top of the queue, if our medical experts give the vaccines the green light.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt said that while vaccinations help save lives, they would not be mandatory and individuals would maintain the option not to vaccinate.